Khoresh is an Iranian stew of meat, various herbs, beans or fruits. Although many recognize the more familiar khoresh, qorme-sabzi, a stew of beef, beans and herbs, there are many more recipes for stews in Persian cuisine.
Khoresh is often a stew that includes beef. For example, a stew of beef, eggplants and tomato sauce is khoresh-bademjan. The same recipe made with chicken is called joojeh- bademjan and not a khoresh!
Quince Stew, or khoresh-beh in Persian, is one of my favorite recipes that my maternal grandmother made. However, just like her, I prefer it with chicken. And I dare call it khoresh even though it is made with poultry.
Quince Stew is a perfect autumn recipe. Sweet and tangy, it is an Iranian soul food for me, always bringing great memories of eating it on Shabbat.
My maternal grandmother, Turan was born in Hamedan, Iran, an ancient city and the burial site of the heroes of Purim, Esther and Mordekhai. However, she was not named Esther. Her name, instead, referred to the mythical region of Tur. The people of Tur were the enemies of Zoroastrians, and they are mentioned in negative terms in the Persian epic Shahnameh as the enemy of Iranians.
We called her Maman-bozorg. I am not sure why my grandmother would have been named Turan. It is a beautiful name! Maybe that’s the reason!
Turan, like many other girls of her era, was married off at a very young age to my paternal grandfather, Avraham, who had lost his wife in childbirth. Avraham had already had a family with four children. He had successful jobs, first as a businessman, and then as a bookseller. The business fell apart. The book store was burned down.
By the time he married the young Turan, he was poor.
Photograph: Turan came to Shiraz for my brother's brit-milah.
My grandfather was a traveling vendor, selling mostly fabric and dried fruits and nuts to villagers who lived outside Hamedan.
He rarely came home. He visited home without any money and often leaving a baby in Turan’s belly.
I met my maternal grandfather for the first time when I was about 10-years-old. His family had moved to Tehran from Hamedan to escape intense anti-semitism. He was an old man, reading from the Torah for money, and writing letters for those who were illiterate.
That money didn’t pay for expenses either. He gave them to his children from the previous marriage for safekeeping, I have been told.
I met him again a few years later before they immigrated to Israel. We didn't interact. I don't remember having a name for him, like baba-bozorg or grandfather.
I am sure my grandfather would have had a narrative of his own, one that could be told better through his first family. But I don't know them either.
Photograph: Turan at my wedding, surrounded by my mother and two uncles. I don't remember her ever smiling!
Turan worked all the days of her adult life. In Hamedan, she cooked for the pupil of Alliance Israélite Universelle, a charitable organization with schools around Iran. My mother went to elementary school there until she was given away.
Turan cleaned people’s homes, washed peoples’ clothes—anything to make money to feed her six children.
My mother, Ruhi, the only daughter, was the oldest. In this picture, the only picture of her childhood, my mother looks as if she is falling off the page!
In fact, mimicking her own life, Turan married off her daughter when she was 13-years-old to my father whom neither had met before he had followed my mother from school and had asked for her hand in marriage. He lived in Shiraz, a long-distance away.
One less mouth to feed!
Turan had one child after another. She was carrying a baby when my mother was pregnant with me. On the rare occasions that she came to Shiraz to visit us, she and my mother were both pregnant.
Although all my uncles remember Turan's food with absolute nostalgia, their memory is often of all children digging into the food, still in the pot in which it was cooked, with tremendous hunger, eating fast in completion with their brothers.
Turan was a great cook. She was resourceful. She made her own cheese and yogurt; her own bread; and the most delicious Persian food that my uncles still remember. They talk about these dishes as if they were mana from heaven: the stuffed pumpkin, the samanou, the gondi, the eggplant khoresh!
Turan's quince khoresh, made with chicken or turkey legs, is a delicious classic—a favorite of mine and my family as well. I think of my grandmother every time I make this dish.
4 med quinces, cut into 1-inch slices. Make sure that the fruit is blemish-free and fragrant.
1 c small pitted prunes
1 large can (28 oz, 1 lb) crushed tomatoes
2 medium onions, sliced
2 lbs boneless and skinless chicken thighs
2 T oil
1 t turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
1T whole cumin seeds, optional
Fry quince slices in 1 T oil and a dash of turmeric. If not soft enough, cover and let stand for a few minutes until they are tender. Don’t overcook. At this point, you may freeze them for future use.
Put the onions in a large pan with 1 T oil and the rest of the turmeric. Stir over med heat until they are translucent. Add chicken pieces and stir until they are opaque.
Add crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper and cook until chicken is tender.
Add prunes, cook for 5 min.
At this point, one of my uncles adds a T of whole cumin seeds, a favorite of Maman-bozorg.
Add quince and cook for 5 min.
Serve Over Persian Basmati rice.